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NFL Barometer: Charles Climbs the Charts

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

UPGRADES

Jamaal Charles, RB, KC – Assuming that Charles passes his physical Thursday, he should be ready to join his teammates Friday when training camp begins. Fortunately, the season-ending ACL tear Charles suffered in 2011 came in Week 2 against the Lions, so he's had plenty of time to rehab the injury in preparation for his return. The Chiefs signed Peyton Hillis to a one-year deal in March, but Charles' value has never hinged on the idea that he'll take 300-plus carries in a season anyway. Back in 2010 when Charles worked in tandem with Thomas Jones, he ranked fifth among running backs in fantasy points per game (15.1) in non-PPR formats.

Charles – 230 carries, 1,467 yards, five TD, 45 receptions, 468 yards and three TD
Jones – 245 carries, 896 yards, six TD, 14 receptions, 122 yards and zero TD.

While Hillis has proven to be a useful pass-catching option out of the backfield, a carry split resembling the one above is a reasonable bet and Charles is capable of delivering upper-tier numbers without an overwhelming volume.

Ryan Williams, RB, ARI – Williams and Beanie Wells are both currently at something less than 100 percent health, but Williams has opted for practice over rest, while Wells has been on the opposite side of that arrangement. In addition to losing his rookie season with the Cards to a knee injury, Williams was on the shelf during his sophomore season at Virginia Tech due to a hamstring ailment. As a freshman, he racked up 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to being named the ACC Rookie of the Year. Although Williams is an unknown at the NFL level, the Cards liked him enough to make him an early second-round pick in 2011 and he appears to have the opportunity to unseat Wells for the starting job during training camp. It certainly doesn't hurt Williams' case that Wells appears to have a permanent corner in head coach Ken Whisenhunt's dog house.

Alex Green, RB, GB – Green has not been limited during the early days of training camp, but the Packers' lack of urgency bringing in a veteran back suggest that they are perfectly comfortable with a combination of Green, James Starks and Brandon Saine handling the workload in their backfield this season. Another runner returning from a torn ACL, Green's injury was suffered in Week 5 of the 2011 campaign and may ultimately limit his opportunities to contribute early on this season as he was only deployed for three carries and a reception in very limited duty over four games as a rookie. Starks, who averaged 20.3 carries per game during the playoffs in 2010, is the best bet to open the season as the starter, but he's battled an overwhelming number of injuries in Green Bay and at the University of Buffalo. If one back emerges to take on the bulk of the carries, there's a significant amount of profit potential here.

Matt Schaub, QB, HOU – After a lisfranc injury derailed Schaub's season in November, the Texans struggled to move the ball through the air effectively with Jake Delhomme and T.J. Yates at the helm. In fairness, Andre Johnson was banged up during that stretch as well. Prior to landing on the IR, Schaub was having an excellent season with a career-best 8.5 YPA and a 15:6 TD:INT mark over 10 games. Considering that he's been medically cleared to participate in training camp and that Schaub says he's 100 percent recovered from the injury, it's a bit surprising that he's currently the 17th quarterback coming off the board on the Mock Draft Central Average Draft Position report. At the very least, he should be taken ahead of Carson Palmer (109, 14th) and Andrew Luck (117, 16th). Is there really a significant gap between Schaub and Matt Ryan (81, 11th)?

Tony Moeaki, TE, KAN – Like teammate Jamaal Charles, Moeaki's clearance to participate when training camp begins Friday hinges on his ability to pass a physical Thursday. Moeaki also lost his 2011 season to a torn ACL, but the production from his rookie campaign (47 catches, 556 yards and three TD) suggests that he could be a viable option if the target volume creeps upward. The presence of Kevin Boss may take away enough opportunities to limit Moeaki's upside to waiver-wire use in deeper leagues, but similar to Scott Chandler's occasional spurts of value for the Bills last season, Moeaki has upside and should carry a minimal price tag in most leagues.

DOWNGRADES

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC – The Jags opened training camp Thursday and Jones-Drew was not present as he's hoping to receive a new contract. At this time, it does not sound as though new owner Shad Khan is going to budge on his plan to stand pat. It certainly isn't helping Jones-Drew's case that he's under contract for two more seasons, but the defending rushing champion appears content to pay a $30,000/day fine to skip training camp at least for now. After holding out last season, Titans running back Chris Johnson eclipsed 65 rushing yards just once over the first eight games – while his overall production slipped to a career-low 4.0 YPC. In other instances, we've seen injuries crop up for players after a training camp absence (Ryan Grant, 2008). Missing time in camp may not be as damaging to a veteran like Jones-Drew as it would be for a rookie unfamiliar with his team's playbook, but it certainly raises questions about how effective he will be upon resolution if the holdout ends in time for a Week 1 return. Rashad Jennings will collect first-team reps while Jones-Drew sits, and he should be upgraded anyway as the backup to a player coming off of a season with a career-high 343 carries.

Jahvid Best, RB, DET – The Lions are planning on taking a cautious approach with Best once he's cleared for contact in training camp. Considering that he suffered concussions in August and October last season, a restricted workload this summer makes sense, but it should be a major concern that Best's clearance went from something that was expected to something that merely could happen Thursday.

"It’s not just one single thing, it’s sort of a whole battery and a whole process," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "There’s a lot of people involved in that. That’s just not one singular point of contact. He has input from a lot of experts around the country, not just our team doctors but national experts and things like that."

Mikel Leshoure (profiled last week as an upgrade) will miss the first two games of the season due to suspension, so don't be surprised if Kevin Smith takes the bulk of the carries in those matchups. Even if Best is able to participate in most of the activities throughout training camp, it's becoming more difficult to envision a scenario where he's called upon as anything beyond a third-down back.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, TAM – As Blount owners from last season will attest, his inability to pick up the blitz and handle pass protection regularly limited his opportunities to get on the field and subsequently killed his production any time the Bucs fell behind. The first-round selection of Doug Martin put Blount on notice, and while the incumbent is currently atop the Bucs' depth chart, the rookie is expected to push him throughout training camp. It has also been reported that Blount has struggled with tardiness during the past two seasons in addition to occasionally sleeping in team meetings. Perhaps having a new coaching staff and legitimate competition will bring out a better side of the former undrafted rookie, but the workload could diminish quickly if his on- or off-field issues persist.

Mike Wallace, WR, PIT – Wallace is refusing to sign a one-year, $2.4 million contract and remains a restricted free agent as a result. His training camp holdout officially began Wednesday and the Steelers have indicated that they will not discuss a multi-year extension for Wallace until he signs the tender. Entering his fourth season, Wallace has proven capable of delivering elite numbers without being a target monster thanks to his top-end speed and the ability to make big plays downfield. Of some concern is that Wallace's numbers fell off in the second half of last season when he hauled in just 29 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns over the final eight games. However it may have been the byproduct of Ben Roethlisberger's ankle injury in addition to seeing more attention from opposing defenses. With a double-digit YPT mark in each of his first three seasons, Wallace is safe as a top-15 receiver even if the Steelers do a good job of spreading the ball around. His limited red-zone looks will continue to make him a volatile WR1, however, as just five of his 24 career touchdowns have come inside of 20 yards.

A.J. Jenkins, WR, SF – With Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham ahead of him on the depth chart, Jenkins was facing an uphill battle to make an impact as a rookie this season to begin with. Reports continue to suggest he's struggling with dropped passes and route running as he adjusts to life in the NFL, which could leave him vulnerable to spending time on the inactive list when the regular season begins barring improvement as the season progresses. Think of him more as a dynasty league investment than a rookie showing early signs of being a contributor during the second half of Year 1.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.